Division Three was a cold, hateful place to be, and Leeds fans may suggest that we should just forget that the whole thing ever happened. If we cease to speak of League One, who will ever remember we were there? We could achieve a sort of group-hypnosis, starting with ourselves, gradually bringing the rest of the world under the spell. Brought down from library shelves and dusted off, the League One tables for seasons 07/08, 08/09, 09/10 would just show a strange smudge in certain positions. We could erase Doncaster and Millwall in the playoffs, we could forget about Histon and Exeter. But to do this would mean the loss from our collective club memory of a game and a day that, for sheer fucking fun, is unrivalled in our recent history.
Leeds’ three seasons in Division Three were years of diminishing pleasures, as hope after hope was denied us. I had wanted, as we entered the uncharted waters south of the league equator, to make the best of it; but season by season the chance of taking some small joy from the situation was denied us, even as we were ever prepared to settle for less:
- to go straight back up
- to go straight back up from -15
- to win the playoff final at Wembley
- to win the league the next season
- to reach the third round of the FA Cup
- to get automatic promotion
- to reach the playoff final
- to win the JPT
Yes, to win the JPT. By 09/10, so determined was I to have something to celebrate from our time in League One, that I had decided salvation lay in winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and then, hopefully, never playing in it again. Even that paltry pleasure was beyond us.
Promotion itself, when it came, was won at the last moment of a half-season of barely endurable grittiness; the end of the game against Bristol Rovers felt more like an end to grieving than a celebration. Nobody ever looked back at the day they got out of jail and called it a ‘fun day’; its value lay in allowing all the fun days to follow.
All of which leaves January 3rd 2010 as perhaps the only day in the last three seasons when Leeds United fans were able to, without impediment, enjoy winning a game of football. There was nothing at stake that day; our Third Division status – “minnows,” they called us – was protection against Them being able to crow too noisily after our likely defeat. Leeds were able to go to Old Trafford with happy hearts and a carefree attitude, as indifferent to the FA Cup as to the JPT, when it was compared to the important job-of-work that was promotion. All of which made the day, and the victory, one of unleavened pleasure.
Some have suggested that the happy nostalgia felt today, one year on, speaks of a small-time attitude: that we should be men about it, shrug it off and move on. But if we are to forever bear the albatross of the bad times, shouldn’t we also be allowed the memory of that one good time? The circumstances around Leeds’ win at Old Trafford were, due to our lowly league position, unique; and if we took nothing else from our time in League One, we should be thankful that we took the chance of inflicting a strange and unusual punishment upon our fiercest rivals. Under no other circumstances could Leeds be described before visiting Old Trafford, on their official website, as “minnows”; never was victory sweeter than when we made Them suffer for our league status. For Them to be knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round, by a third division team, and by Leeds United, all on the same day: we did it to them, and they will never, ever be able to do it to us.
No, it didn’t make Leeds’ stay in League One worthwhile; but it was payback, and it felt good. It showed, and its memory should be dedicated to always showing, that whatever may befall Leeds United, there will always be, at some proper time, payback. Remember the date.
Originally on The Square Ball blog